Obama, Romney Respond To AJC Poll: Question 4 (Arab Spring)

The American Jewish Committee has posted answers to President Obama’s and Mitt Romney’s responses to a questionnaire from the organization.

Three questions have been posted so far. Question 4 follows below. The remaining questions and the responses from the two candidates will be posted daily over the next week. Stay tuned.

Question 4: In light of recent political upheavals across the Middle East and North Africa, what changes, if any, would you advocate in U.S. aid to, and relations with, the newly constituted Arab governments? What assurances would you require with regard to fighting terrorism, promoting democracy and human rights, protecting minorities, assuring equal treatment of women, curbing weapons proliferation, ending anti-Israel incitement, and advancing regional peace?

Response from President Obama

The popular movements that have reshaped the Arab world in the past year speak to some of America’s most deeply held values. In the Middle East and North Africa, the changes we are witnessing have been building for years. They are the expressions of a universal longing for self-representation, because all people should get to pick their leaders and have a say in the laws that govern their lives.

It will be many years before the story of the Arab Spring is complete. There are going to be huge challenges that come with change. But I believe that the United States will benefit from having partners in the region who complete their transitions to democracy — because ultimately democracies have proven to be our best friends in the world. Whenever people are reaching for the same democracy and basic human rights that the United States stands for, that is a good thing. That’s why my Administration has supported those aspirations, and opposed the use of violence against the people of the region.

As we support these democratic transitions, I have made it clear that I will stand up for America’s core interests in the region – including the security of Israel, countering terrorism, and stopping the spread of nuclear weapons. And we will be steadfast in calling on the nations of the region to meet their international obligations as they go through these transitions. For example, we continue to provide assistance to Egypt because it’s in our interest to help them advance regional security. And we’ve made it clear that they must uphold their peace treaty with Israel and continue transitioning to democracy.

Ultimately, the people of the region themselves will determine the outcome of these upheavals. In some places, change will come faster than others, and progress will often come in fits and starts. But we are committed to helping these nations consolidate their democratic gains and working to further integrate them into the global economy.

Response from Governor Mitt Romney

  • The United States cannot be neutral about the outcome of revolution and political upheaval across the Middle East and North Africa. To protect our national interests and to promote our ideals, my administration would support groups and governments seeking to advance the values of representative government, economic opportunity, and human rights, and oppose any extension of Iranian or jihadist influence.
  • To improve and provide greater accountability to our efforts in the greater Middle East, I will reorganize all diplomatic and assistance efforts under one regional director, who unlike recent “special envoys” or region “czars,” will possess unified budgetary and policy authority. With real authority, this official will set regional priorities, craft a unified regional strategic plan, and properly direct our soft power toward promoting American interests in the region.

Obama, Romney Respond To AJC Poll: Question 3 (Hamas & Fatah)

The American Jewish Committee has posted answers to President Obama’s and Mitt Romney’s responses to a questionnaire from the organization.

Two questions have been posted so far. Question 1 was about Iran and Question 2 was about the US-Israel Relationship. Question 3 follows below. The remaining questions and the responses from the two candidates will be posted daily over the next week. Stay tuned.

Question 3: In 2011, the Palestinians moved unilaterally to seek UN recognition of statehood, affirming their reluctance to negotiate directly with Israel. How should the U.S. engage with the Palestinians regarding their UN initiatives for recognition, and the stalled peace process? What should U.S. policy be regarding rapprochement between Hamas and Fatah?

Response from President Obama

Last year, I stood before the United Nations General Assembly to address the Palestinian bid for U.N. recognition of statehood. I believe now, as I did then, that the Palestinian people deserve a state of their own. However, I continue to believe that lasting peace will only come from direct negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians themselves and not from unilateral Palestinian actions at the United Nations. That is why I made it clear that there can be no short-cuts to peace, and called on the world to recognize the legitimacy of Israel and its security concerns as a Jewish, democratic state.

We cannot impose peace or any final status details on the Israelis and Palestinians. Ultimately, it is up to the two parties to take action. Final status issues can only be resolved by the Israelis and Palestinians themselves. What we can do is state frankly what is widely known: that a lasting peace will involve two sovereign, independent states. And I am convinced that the majority of Israelis and Palestinians would rather look to the future than be trapped in the past. However, my Administration has made it clear that Israelis cannot be expected to negotiate with a partner that refuses to recognize its right to exist. That’s why it’s imperative that Hamas abides by the Quartet conditions to renounce violence, recognize Israel’s right to exist, and abide by past agreements.

Response from Governor Mitt Romney

  • As president, I will reject any measure that would frustrate direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. We will make clear to the Palestinians that the unilateral attempt to decide issues that are designated for final negotiations by the Oslo Accords is unacceptable, and will leave no doubt the U.S. will react firmly if the General Assembly recognizes a Palestinian state. If such a resolution were to be passed, the U.S. would reconsider American support for UN programs, and re-evaluate its relations with any state that votes in favor of recognition. We would also reduce assistance to the Palestinians if they continue to pursue United Nations recognition or form a united government that includes Hamas, a terrorist group dedicated to Israel’s destruction.
  • Unlike President Obama, I understand that distancing the U.S. from Israel doesn’t earn us credibility in the Arab world or bring peace closer. Instead, it encourages Palestinians to hold out and wait for Washington to deliver more Israeli concessions. I will never unilaterally create preconditions for peace talks, as President Obama has done.
  • Moreover, I do not believe that we should be issuing public warnings that create distance between the United States and Israel. Israel does not need public lectures about how to weigh decisions of war and peace. It needs our support.

Obama, Romney AJC Poll: Question 2 (Israel US Relationship)

The American Jewish Committee has posted answers to President Obama’s and Mitt Romney’s responses to a questionnaire from the organization.

Yesterday we posted the first question which was about Iran. Question 2 follows below. The remaining questions and the responses from the two candidates will be posted daily over the next week. Stay tuned.

Question 2: How would you characterize the U.S.-Israel relationship, and what role should that alliance play in U.S. Middle East policy? How should the United States continue its commitment to maintaining Israel’s ability to deter and defend against foreseeable combinations of threats, and maintain its military edge? What role should the United States play if Israel comes under attack from Gaza and the West Bank or from the territory of one of its neighbors?

Response from President Obama

The United States and Israel share a deep and enduring friendship built on mutual interests and values – and America’s commitment to Israel’s security is unshakeable. I have a deep understanding of the grave threats that Israel faces, and I have been steadfast in supporting its right to defend itself.  Israel’s security is non-negotiable.

I will do whatever it takes to ensure that Israel always has the ability to defend itself, by itself, against any threat. That’s why my Administration has sent Israel the largest security assistance packages in its history, even in these tough budgetary times here at home. My administration is funding the Iron Dome system that stops rockets fired by Hamas and Hezbollah from harming innocent Israelis. Our military and intelligence cooperation has never been closer, and we have worked to ensure Israel’s qualitative military edge in the region. And we stand united in working to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran.

I have also stood with Israel in the international community when others have tried to delegitimize its right to exist or to unfairly criticize its actions. I’ve often stood alone in supporting Israel, and I will continue to do so because it’s the right thing to do. When Israeli diplomats feared for their lives in Cairo, we intervened to save them. When one-sided and anti-Israel resolutions are brought up at the UN Human Rights Council, we oppose them. When the Goldstone report unfairly singled out Israel for criticism, we challenged it. And when the Palestinians attempted to circumvent direct negotiations with Israel and pursue statehood unilaterally at the United Nations, we rallied our partners and allies to block their efforts.

Response from Governor Mitt Romney

  • Israel is the U.S.’s closest ally in the Middle East and a beacon of democracy and freedom in the region. In a Romney administration, there will be no gap between our nations or between our leaders. I will make clear that America’s commitment to Israel’s security and survival as a Jewish state is absolute, and will demonstrate that commitment to the world by making Jerusalem the destination of my first foreign trip.
  • To ensure Israel’s security, I will work closely with Israel to maintain its strategic military edge. We will also work intensively with Turkey and Egypt to shore up the fraying relationships with Israel that have underpinned peace in the Middle East for decades. The United State must forcefully resist the emergence of anti-Israel policies in Turkey and Egypt, and work to make clear that the interests of those countries are not served by isolating Israel.

Obama, Romney Respond To AJC Poll: Question 1 (Iran)

The American Jewish Committee has posted answers to President Obama’s and Mitt Romney’s responses to a questionnaire from the organization.

The first question is about Iran.

The remaining questions and the responses from the two candidates will be posted daily over the next 10 days. Stay tuned.

Question 1:  As the Iranian regime continues its pursuit of nuclear weapons capability – defying a growing international consensus, threatening Israel and other U.S. allies, and in violation of its treaty obligations – what specific steps would you take to avert the peril of a nuclear Iran? As the U.S. and its international partners act to isolate Iran, how do you suggest dealing with governments that have resisted efforts to exert economic pressure on the Iranian regime? What position should the United States take if Iran develops its nuclear capability to the point that diplomacy and sanctions cannot be expected to restrain its development and deployment of weapons that would jeopardize U.S. interests and global security?

Response from President Barack Obama

When I came into office, Iran’s leadership was united and on the rise in the region, while the international community was divided about how to confront Tehran’s nuclear weapons ambitions. Today, because of concrete steps that I and my Administration have taken, Iran is under greater pressure and more isolated than ever. We have led the international community in putting in place the toughest and most comprehensive sanctions in history on Iran. We secured the support of Russia and China for these sanctions, making them even more effective and biting, and have since built a broad international coalition that has targeted the Iranian banking, petroleum, and petro-chemical sectors. Our diplomacy has succeeded in getting every major importer of Iranian oil to significantly reduce their purchases — including a total European Union oil embargo; however, we consistently review our sanctions, and will not hesitate to impose consequences on those actors who do not comply with our sanctions regime.

I’ve been absolutely clear that containment is not my policy, and that all options are on the table to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. I am prepared to use all elements of American power to do so, including a political effort to further isolate Iran, a diplomatic effort to sustain our coalition, an economic effort that has imposed crippling sanctions, and a military effort to be prepared for any contingency.

I believe we have a responsibility to use the time and space that exists now — when both we and the Israelis judge the Iranians do not yet have a nuclear weapon – to try to get a diplomatic solution to this situation. Indeed, history shows that diplomacy is the surest way to permanently change a nation’s calculus with respect to pursuing nuclear weapons. But even as seek a diplomatic solution, we will continue to heighten the pressure on the Iranian government with every available tool. While it is true that, as president, I have a deeply held preference for peace over war, I have also made clear time and again that I will not hesitate to use force when it is necessary to defend the United States and its interests.

It’s in both our and Israel’s national security interests to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran. Together, along with our global partners, we will continue to apply maximum pressure to achieve that end.

Response from Governor Mitt Romney

It is unacceptable for Iran to possess a nuclear weapons capability and as president I will never accept such a development. I will take every measure to keep Iran from acquiring the most terrible weapons known to man. I will press for ever tightening sanctions on the regime, acting multilaterally where we can and unilaterally where we must, and leave no doubt in the mind of the regime’s leaders that the military option remains on the table. Toward that end, I will restore the regular presence of aircraft carrier task forces in both the Eastern Mediterranean and the Persian Gulf region, increase military assistance to Israel, expand military coordination with our Arab allies, and conduct more naval exercises as a demonstration of strength and resolve. I will support democratic alternatives to the repressive regime in Tehran and work to improve the flow of information to the Iranian population about its own government’s repressive activities. I will commit and push for the on-time completion of a fully capable missile defense system in Eastern Europe to create a protective umbrella against Iranian nuclear weapons.

AJC Poll Shows Obama Clearly Ahead Among Florida Jews

(NJDC) The American Jewish Committee released a new poll of Jewish voters in Florida that found President Barack Obama leading Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney 69%-25%, with 5% undecided. Among undecided voters, 0% indicated that they lean toward Romney.

Recently reported data from Gallup found Obama leading 70%-25% nationally.  

White House Chief of Staff Jack Lew at AJC Global Forum

— by Matt Compton

Last night, White House Chief of Staff Jack Lew spoke at the American Jewish Committee Global Forum. There, he praised the Committee’s decades of work to build a better world at home and abroad. He also stressed the steps the President has taken to prevent a second Great Depression and create an economy built to last. And he reiterated our commitment to the unbreakable bonds between the United States and Israel.

Transcript follows the jump.
Good evening.

Thank you, Bob, both for that introduction, and for everything you do for the American Jewish Committee. I want to acknowledge the distinguished foreign ministers who I am privileged to share this stage with tonight.

I also want like to thank my friend David Harris for his decades of leadership in the American Jewish community. And finally, I would like to recognize all the familiar faces in the audience, people I know from my work in government and the private sector, and from my neighborhood. It is a pleasure to be with all of you tonight.

During the AJC’s early years, one of the organization’s most important missions was to prevent the persecution of Eastern European Jews. And speaking at this year’s Global Forum means a lot to me personally, because my father was one of those people.

He was born in Poland. His family left their small town at the end of World War I. My mother’s family made the journey just a few years earlier.

They were lucky. They had the opportunity to leave before it was too late. And they were especially lucky to come here, to America – a country that has always stood for freedom, both within its borders and around the world.

My parents made sure that I grew up with a deep appreciation for how fortunate I was to be an American. I was raised in a family that placed high importance on preserving our Jewish values, and promoting our shared American values.

That is something the AJC has always placed high importance on as well. You have helped make our union more perfect, and our world a better place. In the 1920s, you supported immigrants like my father as they sought to realize the American dream.

In the 1950s and 60s, you helped advance civil rights for African-Americans.

In the 1980s, you organized on behalf of Soviet Jewry.

Today, you continue to fight for the basic promise of America: that no matter who you are or where you come from, you can make it if you try. Wherever your parents came from, you can be Chief of Staff to the President of the United States, and yes, even President of the United States.

Whether or not we are going to preserve that promise is the question being debated here in Washington today. And the stakes have never been higher: this is a make or break moment for the middle class, and for all those working hard to get into the middle class.

For many years, well before the crisis of 2008, wages were staying flat, as costs for everything from food and health care to college went up. When we were hit with the worst economic disaster of our lifetimes, the situation became even more dire.

With our economy on the brink of a second Great Depression, our leadership in the world was called into question.

These were the challenges President Obama faced, when he took office. We still have a long way to go before our economy is fully recovered – before everyone who wants a good job can get one. But today, we are beginning to see what change looks like.

Because over the past 25 months, businesses have added more than 4.1 million jobs.  Manufacturers are hiring for the first time since the 1990s. And the American auto industry is back on top.

That’s not all. Today, taxes are at historically low rates for middle class families and small businesses have seen their taxes cut 18 times since President Obama took office.

At the same time, our dependence on foreign oil is below 50 percent for the first time in more than a decade.

That’s good for our economy, and just as importantly, it’s good for our national security.

Of course, there’s so much more: protecting a woman’s right to equal pay for equal work;  historic healthcare reform that is already saving seniors money on prescription drugs, and helping young people buy insurance on their parents’ health plans; student loan reform that cuts out the middlemen, and gives more young people the chance to go to college.

That’s what change looks like. While we still have a long way to go, together we are restoring the values that helped build the world’s most prosperous economy and strongest middle class. Today, President Obama is fighting for an America where everyone gets a fair shot, everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same set of rules.

And just as importantly, he is also making sure that America stands up for its values around the world. When President Obama took office, two costly wars made it hard for us to address the most pressing challenges of the 21st century.

And our diminished diplomatic standing made it hard for us to mobilize the international community to join us in common cause.

A little more than three years later, President Obama has kept his promises. He brought the war in Iraq to a responsible end, and he has restored America’s place as the one indispensable nation in world affairs.

Less than 48 hours ago, I had the honor of travelling with the President to Afghanistan, where he signed a historic partnership agreement and again thanked our brave men and women in uniform. Thanks to them, Al Qaeda’s leadership has been decimated, and we have delivered justice to Osama bin Laden.  And from a hanger at Bagram Air Base, the President laid out his plan to complete our mission in Afghanistan, end the war, and turn responsibility over to the Afghan people.

Much has changed since President Obama took office. But one thing that has never changed is the President’s commitment to the state of Israel.

Now, it’s possible that over the next few months, you may hear some of our friends on the other side question President Obama’s commitment to Israel’s security. But the facts tell a clear and very different story. A story I am proud to share.

In 2008, President Obama said, and I quote, “Israel’s security is sacrosanct. It is nonnegotiable.”

He has never wavered from that conviction.

The President believes deeply that the United States and Israel share common interests, and common values. And I invite you to look at what President Obama has done while in office. At every crucial moment during the last four years, we have been there when Israel needed us.

This begins with the cooperation between our militaries, which has never been closer. Even in the midst of a truly difficult budgetary environment, our military aid for Israel has increased every single year. We have shared cutting-edge military technology.

As the President has put it, and I quote, “We will do what it takes to preserve Israel’s qualitative military edge, because Israel must always have the ability to defend itself, by itself, against any threat.”

Put simply, President Obama gets it. As a Senator, he traveled to Sderot and met with families living in fear of rocket fire. He knows the threats that still exist. And that is why he has provided critical funding to deploy the Iron Dome system that has intercepted rockets that otherwise could have cost innocent Israelis their lives.

President Obama has supported Israel through diplomacy as well. When the Goldstone Report unfairly singled out Israel, we challenged it. When the Durban conference was used as an excuse to attack the Jewish State, we boycotted it, and we will always reject the notion that Zionism is racism.

When the General Assembly of the United Nations convened last year, President Obama told the leaders gathered there that any lasting peace must acknowledge Israel’s right to exist, and its legitimate security concerns.

That’s an easy thing to say here.

It was not such an easy thing to say there.

Now, one of the most pressing of those security concerns is Iran. When President Obama took office, international efforts to curb Iran’s nuclear program were at a standstill. Iran was asserting itself throughout the region, and the international community could not come to agreement about how to respond.

Today, because of President Obama’s leadership, the situation is very different. After Iran’s leaders rejected the President’s diplomatic engagement, he mobilized the international community, and put the regime in Tehran under greater pressure than ever before.

Today, unprecedented sanctions have helped to slow Iran’s nuclear program, and tightened the economic screws on the regime. This summer, sanctions will become even tougher.

So in just a few years, the Iranian regime has seen a reversal of fortune. Today, their leadership is divided and under pressure.

Even as we continue to work towards a diplomatic solution, we’re going to keep up the pressure, because President Obama takes the threat from Iran extremely seriously. He has made clear his is not a policy of containment; it is a policy of preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. And in pursuit of that policy, the President has taken no options off the table.

And I am also proud to say that President Obama understands that part of maintaining Israel’s long-term security as a Jewish state is pursuing a just and lasting peace-he has echoed the call made by leaders such as Prime Minister Netanyahu, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, and President Shimon Peres, in calling for a secure Israel that lives side by side with an independent Palestinian state.  

No one has labored longer or harder in pursuit of peace than President Peres, and to honor his lifetime of service and achievement, President Obama looks forward to awarding him the Presidential Medal of Freedom this summer in Washington.

Now, peace is hard to achieve. But President Obama has always believed that just because something is hard, doesn’t mean it is not right. So in the days ahead, he will to continue to fight for an America that remains true to its ideals. He will do everything he can, not just to get our economy back to where it was, but to create an economy built to last for future generations. And he will stand firmly for Israel’s security, for peace, and for the basic rights and freedoms that we all cherish so deeply.

You know, I began tonight by talking about my father. I think about the world his generation handed down to me. Our task is to make sure that the world our generation leaves to our children is full of opportunity: the kind of place where you can achieve anything, if you’re willing to work for it – a world that is safer, more peaceful, and more free.

I’m proud to be a guest of an organization that is working to build that kind of world, bit by bit and step by step. And as you do, I want you to know that President Obama, and his entire administration, will be with you every step of the way.

Thank you.

AJC Survey Confirms Obama’s Strength Among Jewish Voters

— by David Streeter

An American Jewish Committee survey released today has demonstrated yet again that Jews would overwhelmingly vote today to reelect President Barack Obama over the GOP nominee, Mitt Romney (by a 61%:28% margin)-by essentially the same margin AJC reported Jews would support Barack Obama over John McCain at this same point in 2008 (57%:30%). This once again gives the lie to the myth that the Jewish vote is shifting rightward.

Further, the AJC survey shows that the margin of how much American Jews favor Barack Obama over Mitt Romney has dramatically increased from 2011 (50%:32%, an 18-point gap) to 2012 (61%:28%, a 33-point gap), using this very same poll. This illustrates that the more American Jews get to know Mitt Romney, the less they like him — and the more they see of Barack Obama’s leadership, the more they support him.

The AJC survey-like each survey before it-also asked about party identification. American Jews’ party identification in each American Jewish Committee survey going back through 2008 demonstrates that Jews remain strongly Democratic (52/19 today), with any fluctuations being within the margin of error. This yet again gives the lie to the myth of any shift in Jewish voter identification.

This month-old AJC poll tracks closely with other similar recent polls of Jewish opinion-including the PRRI Jewish Values Survey and others. All of these have shown a significant lead for President Obama over his likely Republican opponent, on par with where he was four years ago at this time — when he eventually won by a three-to-one margin among the Jewish vote.

Links

Gov. Rendell & Mayor Goode Leadoff Black Jewish Leadership Series


(left to right) Former Mayor Wilson Goode and former Governor Ed Rendell talk privately before making a presentation and taking questions.

— by Bonnie Squires

The Black Jewish Leadership Series began today with a lunch and discussion on Black-Jewish relations with:

  • Edward G. Rendell, Former Governor of Pennsylvania and
  • W. Wilson Goode, Sr., Former Mayor of Philadelphia

 
More after the jump.                    


(left to right) Gregory Davis, Rep. Mark Cohen, Derek Green, Esq., Kory Grushka, Esq., Hon. Wilson Goode, Hon. Ed Rendell, and Michael Bronstein.

The Black Jewish Leadership Series is a speaker series where leaders from the Jewish and Black (and other) communities are invited to meet and greet some of today’s leading civic, business and political figures. Featured speakers include elected officials or candidates for federal or
state‐wide offices, civic leaders and prominent business persons.

The event was a collaboration between the Idea Coalition and the Blank Rome Diversity
Committee.

Photos: Bonnie Squires


(left to right) Timothy Roseboro, Steven Bradley, and David Hyman all talked about the AJCommittee’s Black-Jewish program, Operation Understanding, which brings together Jewish and African American high school students to socialize and learn about each others’ experiences with prejudice.

             

BFF: Obama supports Israel & Israels support Obama

— by David Streeter and Jason Attermann

A new independent poll released today by the Brookings Institution of Israelis in November demonstrates again that a majority of Israeli Jews hold favorable views of President Barack Obama. Of the Israeli Jews polled, 54% held a favorable view of Obama, while 39% did not. This survey marked a 13 point increase over the percentage of Israelis who held favorable views of Obama one year ago in a similar poll.

National Jewish Democratic Council President and CEO David A. Harris commented,

This new poll shows the continuing increase in support among Israelis for President Obama over time. As they get to know him better and better, Israelis hold more and more favorable views of the President — and this poll demonstrates it.

Earlier in his term when Israelis were getting to know President Obama, and his favorability numbers were significantly lower as a result, GOP partisans used those numbers to falsely smear and distort this President’s stellar record on Israel. Today, it’s clear that Israelis hold favorable views of the President. But I don’t expect to hear a peep from the GOP about these new favorability figures now that Israelis have gotten to know the President better over time.

The poll, led by Dr. Shibley Telhami, a professor at the University of Maryland and a non-resident senior fellow at the Saban Center at the Brookings Institution, surveyed 510 Israeli Jews between November 10-16 and has a margin of error of +/- 4.4%.

President Obama: “No Ally Is More Important than the State of Israel”

The feeling is mutual.

Wednesday night, President Barack Obama spoke at the home of American Jewish Congress Chairman Jack Rosen and firmly reiterated his commitment to Israel’s security. When Rosen introduced Obama, he declared that “America has never been as supportive of the state of Israel as President Obama and his administration.” During his remarks, Obama affirmed that “no ally is more important than the state of Israel,” and also said:

I try not to pat myself too much on the back, but this administration has done more in terms of the security of the state of Israel than any previous administration.  And that’s not just our opinion, that’s the opinion of the Israeli government.  Whether it’s making sure that our intelligence cooperation is effective, to making sure that we’re able to construct something like an Iron Dome so that we don’t have missiles raining down on Tel Aviv, we have been consistent in insisting that we don’t compromise when it comes to Israel’s security.  And that’s not just something I say privately, that’s something that I said in the U.N. General Assembly.  And that will continue.

We do have enormous challenges in making sure that the changes that are taking place in Egypt, the changes that are taking place throughout the region do not end up manifesting themselves in anti-Western or anti-Israel policies.  And that’s something that we’re going to have to pay close attention to, and work diligently on in the months to come.

More poll results and the President’s full remarks follow the jump.

Remarks by President Barack Obama

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, let me begin by just thanking Jac and Phyllis — and their adorable grandchildren.  (Laughter.)  And their children — I don’t want to skip over a generation.  (Laughter.)  But the grandchildren are really my buddies.  This guy says he’s going to be a future president.  (Laughter.)  So I’m just kind of warming up the seat for him.  (Laughter.)

But in addition to the Rosens, I want to make sure that everybody had a chance to say hello to somebody who has been a dear friend and is an outstanding DNC Chair, Debbie Wasserman Schultz.  (Applause.)

I’m going to keep my remarks very brief at the top, because what I want to do is spend as much time in dialogue and answering questions as possible.

When I came into office, we knew that this was going to be an extraordinary time in the life of the country, and in the world.  I don’t think any of us realized what an extraordinary transformation would be taking place over these last several years.  They’ve been tough years.  They’ve been tough years for the American people.  They’ve been tough for the world.  And we’re not out of the woods yet.  But I begin any meeting like this by saying that we should remind ourselves how much we’ve accomplished over the last three years.  

When we came into office, the economy was contracting at 9 percent.  It has grown over the last 3 years — not as fast as we’d like, but we have been able to sustain a fairly steady pace of growth.  When I came into office, we had lost 4 million jobs before I was sworn in, and 4 million jobs in the three months after I was sworn in.  About six months later, we were creating jobs, and we’ve had private sector job growth for 20 consecutive months.

Along the way, in addition to preventing a financial meltdown and preventing a second Great Depression, we were able to pass a historic health care bill that’s going to make sure that 30 million people have coverage.  We were able to pass a Wall Street reform package that, although some folks in New York are still grousing about it — (laughter) — is going to ensure that we do not have the same kinds of crisis that we had in the past.  We were able to make sure that we ended the war in Iraq, as promised, and by the end of this year we’re going to have all of our troops out, which is going to be an extraordinary homecoming for families all across America.  Thanks to the great work of folks like Debbie, we were able to end practices like “don’t ask, don’t tell,” make sure that we expanded college loans for millions of students all across the country.

So a huge amount of progress has been made, but what we also know is we’ve still got a lot more work to do.  On the domestic front — Jack and I were just downstairs talking — the housing market and the real estate market is still way too weak and we’ve got to do more.  We’re doing some stuff administratively.  We’re hoping that we can get a little more cooperation from Congress to be more aggressive in tackling the housing market and the real estate market.

We still have to put people back to work.  And I was just in Pennsylvania talking about why it’s so important to make sure that we pass a — continue, essentially, a payroll tax cut that helps small businesses and individual families so that there’s more money in circulation and businesses can really latch on to this recovery and start expanding their payrolls.

Internationally, we’ve been managing I think an extraordinary period not just of two wars, which we’re now winding down, but, as Jack alluded to, enormous tumult in the Middle East.  And so far, at least, what we’ve been able to do is manage it in a way that positions America to stand on the side of democracy, but also be very firm with respect to the security of our allies.  And obviously, no ally is more important than the state of Israel.

And as Jack alluded to, this administration — I try not to pat myself too much on the back, but this administration has done more in terms of the security of the state of Israel than any previous administration.  And that’s not just our opinion, that’s the opinion of the Israeli government.  Whether it’s making sure that our intelligence cooperation is effective, to making sure that we’re able to construct something like an Iron Dome so that we don’t have missiles raining down on Tel Aviv, we have been consistent in insisting that we don’t compromise when it comes to Israel’s security.  And that’s not just something I say privately, that’s something that I said in the U.N. General Assembly.  And that will continue.

We do have enormous challenges in making sure that the changes that are taking place in Egypt, the changes that are taking place throughout the region do not end up manifesting themselves in anti-Western or anti-Israel policies.  And that’s something that we’re going to have to pay close attention to, and work diligently on in the months to come.

In the meantime, there are other regions in the world in which we’re making enormous progress.  I mean, we’ve been able to not only reset relations with Russia, manage relations with China, but we’ve also been able to mobilize world opinion around U.S. leadership in a way that many people had thought had been lost when I came into office back in 2008.

So the bottom line is this:  Over the last three years we have made enormous progress.  People aren’t feeling all that progress yet because we had fallen so far and some of the problems that we faced — whether it was on health care or energy or employment — those are problems that had been building up over decades.  And we never anticipated that we would solve them over night because these problems weren’t created overnight.  But the trajectory of the country at this point is sound.

The question is, in 2012 does it continue?  And, frankly, we’ve got another party that — how will I say this charitably — (laughter) — in the past I think has been willing at times  to put country ahead of party, but I’d say over the last couple of years, has not.  Everything has become politicized, from the most modest appointment to getting judges on the bench, to trying to make sure the economy grows — everything has been looked at through a political lens.  And that is what people are tired of. And, frankly, that’s the reason that Congress right now is polling at 9 percent.

People want Washington to work on behalf of the American people, not on behalf of folks in Washington and special interests.  And that has been a great challenge.  This election in 2012 is going to pose a decision for the American people in terms of what direction we want to go in.  There’s fundamental differences in terms of direction.

Their view is that less regulation, a shriveled government that is not doing much for people in terms of giving them a ladder up into the middle class, that that’s their best vision; that we don’t invest in science, that we don’t invest in education, that we don’t invest in infrastructure and transportation — all the things that made us a great power, they seem willing to abandon for ideological reasons.

And I was so moved listening to Jack’s story, because Jack is exactly right — his story is our story.  It’s my story; it’s your story.  At some point our parents, grandparents, great-grandparents came to this country seeking opportunity.  And they had to work hard; they had to hold themselves personally responsible, they had to take risks.  But they also knew that there was a country here where if you did try hard, then somebody might give you a little bit of help; that we were in it together, there were ladders of opportunity that existed.

And that’s what we have to rebuild for the 21st century.  And that requires us to make some decisions about, are we going to have the best schools in this country, are we going to have the best infrastructure, are we going to do what it takes, so these guys end up being part of an America where everybody can still make it if they try; regardless of whether they came from Russia, or they came from Poland, or they came from Mexico, or they came from Kenya, that they’re going to have a chance to succeed, and live out the same kind of dreams that the Rosen family has been able to live out.

Our kids are going to be fine.  And I always tell Malia and Sasha, look, you guys, I don’t worry about you — I mean, I worry the way parents worry — but they’re on a path that is going to be successful, even if the country as a whole is not successful. But that’s not our vision of America.  I don’t want an America where my kids are living behind walls and gates, and can’t feel a part of a country that is giving everybody a shot.

And that’s what we’re fighting for.  That’s what 2012 is going to be all about.  And I’m going to need your help to do it. (Applause.)

So, thank you, very much.  (Applause.)

How Can You Defend Israel? (Part II)

— by David Harris, Executive Director, AJC

Since writing How can you defend Israel?, I’ve been deluged by comments.

Some have been supportive, others harshly critical. The latter warrant closer examination.

The harsh criticism falls into two basic categories.

One is over the top.

It ranges from denying Israel’s very right to nationhood, to ascribing to Israel responsibility for every global malady, to peddling vague, or not so vague, anti-Semitic tropes.

There’s no point in dwelling at length on card-carrying members of these schools of thought. They’re living on another planet.

Israel is a fact. That fact has been confirmed by the UN, which, in 1947, recommended the creation of a Jewish state. The UN admitted Israel to membership in 1949. The combination of ancient and modern links between Israel and the Jewish people is almost unprecedented in history. And Israel has contributed its share, and then some, to advancing humankind.

If there are those on a legitimacy kick, let them examine the credentials of some others in the region, created by Western mapmakers eager to protect their own interests and ensure friendly leaders in power.

Or let them consider the basis for legitimacy of many countries worldwide created by invasion, occupation, and conquest. Israel’s case beats them by a mile.

And if there are people out there who don’t like all Jews, frankly, it’s their problem, not mine. Are there Jewish scoundrels? You bet. Are there Christian, Muslim, atheist, and agnostic scoundrels? No shortage. But are all members of any such community by definition scoundrels? Only if you’re an out-and-out bigot.

The other group of harsh critics assails Israeli policies, but generally tries to stop short of overt anti-Zionism or anti-Semitism. But many of these relentless critics, at the slightest opportunity, robotically repeat claims about Israel that are not factually correct.

There are a couple of methodological threads that run through their analysis.

The first is called confirmation bias. This is the habit of favoring information that confirms what you believe, whether it’s true or not, and ignoring the rest.

While Israel engages in a full-throttled debate on policies and strategies, rights and wrongs, do Israel’s fiercest critics do the same? Hardly.

Can the chorus of critics admit, for example, that the UN recommended the creation of two states – one Jewish, the other Arab – and that the Jews accepted the proposal, while the Arabs did not and launched a war?

Can they acknowledge that wars inevitably create refugee populations and lead to border adjustments in favor of the (attacked) victors?

Can they recognize that, when the West Bank and Gaza were in Arab hands until 1967, there was no move whatsoever toward Palestinian statehood?

Can they explain why Arafat launched a “second intifada” just as Israel and the U.S. were proposing a path-breaking two-state solution?

Or what the Hamas Charter says about the group’s goals?

Or what armed-to-the-teeth Hezbollah thinks of Israel’s right to exist?

Or how nuclear-weapons-aspiring Iran views Israel’s future?

Or why President Abbas rejected Prime Minister Olmert’s two-state plan, when the Palestinian chief negotiator himself admitted it would have given his side the equivalent of 100 percent of the West Bank?

Or why Palestinian leaders refuse to recognize the Western Wall or Rachel’s Tomb as Jewish sites, while demanding recognition of Muslim holy sites?

Or why Israel is expected to have an Arab minority, but a state of Palestine is not expected to have any Jewish minority?

Can they admit that, when Arab leaders are prepared to pursue peace with Israel rather than wage war, the results have been treaties, as the experiences of Egypt and Jordan show?

And can they own up to the fact that when it comes to liberal and democratic values in the region, no country comes remotely close to Israel, whatever its flaws, in protecting these rights?

Apropos, how many other countries in the Middle East – or beyond – would have tried and convicted an ex-president? This was the case, just last week, with Moshe Katsav, sending the message that no one is above the law – in a process, it should be noted, presided over by an Israeli Arab justice.

And if the harsh critics can’t acknowledge any of these points, what’s the explanation? Does their antipathy for Israel – and resultant confirmation bias – blind them to anything that might puncture their airtight thinking?

Then there is the other malady. It’s called reverse causality, or switching cause and effect.

Take the case of Gaza.

These critics focus only on Israel’s alleged actions against Gaza, as if they were the cause of the problem. In reality, they are the opposite – the effect.

When Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005, it gave local residents their first chance in history – I repeat, in history – to govern themselves.

Neighboring Israel had only one concern – security. It wanted to ensure that whatever emerged in Gaza would not endanger Israelis. In fact, the more prosperous, stable, and peaceful Gaza became, the better for everyone. Tragically, Israel’s worst fears were realized. Rather than focus on Gaza’s construction, its leaders – Hamas since 2007 – preferred to contemplate Israel’s destruction. Missiles and mortars came raining down on southern Israel. Israel’s critics, though, were silent. Only when Israel could no longer tolerate the terror did the critics awaken – to focus on Israel’s reaction, not Gaza’s provocative action.

Yet, what would any other nation have done in Israel’s position?

Just imagine terrorists in power in British Columbia – and Washington State’s cities and towns being the regular targets of deadly projectiles. How long would it take for the U.S. to go in and try to put a stop to the terror attacks, and what kind of force would be used?

Or consider the security barrier.

It didn’t exist for nearly 40 years. Then it was built by Israel in response to a wave of deadly attacks originating in the West Bank, with well over 1000 Israeli fatalities (more than 40,000 Americans in proportional terms). Even so, Israel made clear that such barriers cannot only be erected, but also moved and ultimately dismantled.

Yet the outcry of Israel’s critics began not when Israelis were being killed in pizzerias, at Passover Seders, and on buses, but only when the barrier went up.

Another case of reverse causality – ignoring the cause entirely and focusing only on the effect, as if it were a stand-alone issue disconnected from anything else.

So, again, in answer to the question of my erstwhile British colleague, “How can you defend Israel?” I respond: Proudly.

In doing so, I am defending a liberal, democratic, and peace-seeking nation in a rough-and-tumble neighborhood, where liberalism, democracy, and peace are in woefully short supply.